I am pleased to contribute to this well timed and important debate. There are so many issues that we could be discussing today.
I could talk about some of the challenges that schools have raised with me, including the fact that they are facing more children with additional needs, particularly mental health issues, behaviour disorders, Asperger’s and autism. I could mention the fact that schools have had to make cuts, which have pretty much landed on teaching assistants. I could also talk about the high and increasing number of children experiencing neglect, and the schools that are being expected to pick up the pieces of hungry and unwashed kids—going far beyond the core purpose of schools and what they are expected to provide.
I could mention the challenges faced by my local sixth-form college, Franklin College, which has not had an increase in funding and is not afforded the same financial advantages as academy schools. I could also mention the sixth form that so feared loss of funding that it was unable to make provision for a student who was experiencing significant anxiety issues; it could not make reasonable adjustments to accommodate that student. The Government should look at that matter.
While the Secretary of State was lauding the state of education in this country, my hon. Friend Jess Phillips tells me that her son’s school is shutting at 12 o’clock every Friday to save money, and it is not the only school in her constituency doing so. Things really are not as rosy in the Secretary of State’s garden as he would have us believe.
However, I want to focus my comments on the two state-maintained nurseries in my constituency: Scartho Nursery School and Great Coates Village Nursery School, which are both under threat. They currently provide outstanding early years provision, yet have funding certainty only until 2019-20. There is enormous stress and pressure for the headteachers coping with this uncertainty, trying to reassure parents and keep their staff. In fact, they are more than headteachers as we know them, acting as teaching assistant, playground supervisor, secretary, dinner lady and cleaner to their nursery schools, unable to afford cover staff and told that they must plan to fundraise for the additional £100,000 a year that they will need to keep their doors open.
When I have raised this issue with Ministers previously, they have simply tried to pass the buck and told me that I should go to my local authority to get the additional funding to support the schools. But areas such as my constituency are in significant need. Around 30% of our children are deemed to be in poverty and we have had £80 million cut from our local authority budgets over the past few years. These authorities are so stretched in having to prioritise those who are most in need. When schools are centrally funded, why should state-maintained nurseries be expected to compete in the crowded local authority arena with adult social care, public health and enforcement, given that other schools are not required to do so?
The Secretary of State has referred to a number of outstanding providers, and I have absolutely no doubt that he will have used my nurseries’ outstanding status to reinforce his statistics. So why does he do no more than cherry-pick the benefits rather than giving them the long-term certainty that they deserve? To keep providing this outstanding level of education, they would happily forgo the kind words in exchange for the cold, hard cash. The Government say that they are concerned to give good-quality education to all children regardless of their background, ability or disability. This is precisely what my nurseries do. Children with Down’s syndrome play and learn alongside multilingual children and children with autism—genuinely children of all abilities, with different skills, not segregated but part of a community. My nurseries are the very definition of equality, providing the seeds of social mobility. They deserve far greater consideration than they currently get from this Government.
I know that parents in my constituency value and respect these settings and the excellent start they give their children. They do not want to see quality suffer as attention is lost to fundraising activity. In the social mobility index compiled by the House of Commons Library, on almost every ranking—the school life, youth life and adult life stages—Great Grimsby falls into the bottom 20% in the country. Overall, Great Grimsby is 459th out of 533. On every measure, on every expectation, in every stage of our lives, my constituents are being failed by the Government—except in early years, and that is due in no small part to those state-maintained nurseries.